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Harte has learned from last year's early Ulster exit

 

Moving on: Mickey Harte is keen to erase memories of last year
Moving on: Mickey Harte is keen to erase memories of last year
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Crashing out of the Ulster Championship at the first hurdle in Omagh last year taught Tyrone manager Mickey Harte some harsh lessons.

When Monaghan came to Healy Park for the quarter-final, Tyrone were targeting their first ever three-in-a-row of Ulster titles.

However, a build-up and club-only month of April exacted a heavy toll on the fitness of the squad as Tiernan McCann, Mark Bradley and Colm Cavanagh all entered the game hampered by injury and all three had to come off early.

Monaghan capitalised to win by two points, and the lessons learned that day will be to the fore of Harte's mind when they welcome Derry to Healy Park this Sunday in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship.

"We ought to heed that. We probably started three men who hadn't played a lot of football and were nursing injuries through that period of time," recalled Harte.

"And I think we found out as that game went on that it probably wasn't the best decision to make. We made it in good faith at the time, but I suppose we should learn from that experience and be more careful now to know that a player needs to be fully ready for Championship football.

"You can't really carry injuries or worries or niggles that are significant into those games."

Harte continued: "You need to see what work has been done in the recent past. The last couple of weeks are going to be important, how much work players have been able to put in.

"So that will all be part of the decision-making process as to who starts the game and who is on the panel.

"We have no serious injuries. Obviously there's always niggles, and we find that when boys play a lot of league football. You find that the accumulation of niggles adds up to less availability at the training sessions, but thankfully there are no serious injuries. No one has said that for sure they won't be able to play, and that's a real bonus."

As for Derry, they spent the spring extracting themselves from Division Four, where they ended up after two successive relegations.

They had a flawless campaign but kept things remarkably low-key throughout.

"It was a false position they were in, we all know that. They were never a Division Four team," said Harte.

"The fact is that's where they played their football this year, so they probably didn't get challenged as much as I would have hoped they'd get challenged when we play them. So that's something they have to deal with, that they'll consider the challenges that they had and anticipate the challenge that we should bring."

Without the Slaughtneil players for the last few league campaigns, Derry became one of the most leaky defences on the island in successive seasons.

Once Slaughtneil were beaten in last year's Derry Club Championship, Oak Leaf manager Damian McErlain knew he would have a different panel to build, and they boast Christopher and Karl McKaigue, Paul McNeill and Brendan Rogers now in what should be two thirds of their back six in Omagh.

"They believe that they're a much better outfit than the division they played in, and I suppose the ranking that they've got at the moment within the country," said Harte.

"And they've had to live with that, because in the previous couple of seasons, they didn't do well enough in the league to stay in the higher divisions.

"So I think they're honest and realistic enough to know that that's what brought them to where they were, but also confident enough to know that that's not a true reflection of where they ought to be.

"I still think they would be honest enough as well to say that they're not a top division side yet either.

"They have work to do, they're a work in progress, they're a developing side, and I think in time they'll be serious operators. But I just hope they're not at that level right now."

Tyrone have been caught at this caper before.

In 2006, they were defending their All-Ireland crown when they faced Derry in Omagh and didn't even raise a single flag for the first half on their way to a humbling loss.

It was a day, Harte mentions, that Tyrone "have been well reminded of many times".

He explained: "We know in football there will be favourites and there will be underdogs. Generally the favourites win, but not always. So this could be a 'not always' day just as much as the 'general' day, so we need to be ready for whatever might come.

"I suppose it's ancient history to a lot of these boys now, but anybody who's from Tyrone will realise and remember that that score is flashed at us quite a bit here and there, so it should move them to know that it wouldn't be a good place to set out to try and be on again."

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